Both chukka boots and Chelsea boots are solid year-round styles, but what’s the big difference?
Is one better than the other?
In this article, we’ll dive into the differences between chukka and Chelsea boots, and give you a style guide so you can decide which boot is the best choice for you.
What Are Chukka Boots?
Chukka boots are lace-up ankle boots. They’re usually made with leather and suede, though there are versions made with canvas uppers or other materials.
It’s not completely clear how chukka boots got their name, but their origin is likely tied to the game of polo. Many speculate that the boots were worn by off-duty officers in the British Colonial Army and polo players, mainly for their comfort compared to the unwieldy knee-high polo boot.
Now, chukka boots are a go-to in the cooler months, especially if you pick up a pair in suede.
The style is defined by its open lacing and typically has two or three eyelets. Some versions, like Clarks, can be slipped on and off, but more formal versions need to be tied and untied.
The highlight of the Clarks Desert boot is the richly oiled pull up leather and the simplicity of its construction. While the crepe sole is delicate, it provides a lot of cushion, though you’ll need to give these boots a rest every so often.
How to Wear Chukka Boots
Chukka boots are versatile, but it depends on the style you get. If you pick up a pair of boots with a crepe sole, they’re going to start looking a little ragged after a few months because that particular type of rubber absorbs a lot of dirt.
These boots can be worn with jeans and chinos. If you get a more polished chukka with a leather sole, you can work it into a suit outfit, though the style isn’t recommended for formal events like weddings.
What Are Chelsea Boots?
Chelsea boots are leather ankle boots with an elastic gore panel on the sides. Many Chelsea boots also have a pull tab at the heel, but this isn’t a defining factor as many brands forego the tab.
In our experience, we’ve seen two dominant styles of the Chelsea boot: a chunkier English style that features a more rounded toe box and a wider profile, and a slimmer European style with a narrow toe box and a shallow instep.
To get a good feel for what we mean, take a look at the Comovita Chelsea vs the Thursday Duke.
The Chelsea boot from Comovita is done in the classic English style. As you can see, it’s a bit more bulbous and sturdy looking. This style works best in casual settings paired with jeans.
But the Duke from Thursday Boot Company is more streamlined. The Blake stitching keeps a low profile and the boot is slimmer and more narrow overall.
The slimmed-down European style Chelsea boot is your best option if you want to make your Chelsea boot more formal.
I wouldn’t wear the chunkier English style with a suit, but the slimmer Euro style is an elegant and fashionable way to stand out while suiting up.
The traditional Chelsea boot has a leather sole, but there are more and more fantastic options that feature a rubber sole.
How to Wear Chelsea Boots
Chelsea boots are a must for every stylish guy’s wardrobe in our opinion because of their versatility. You can dress them up or down with ease.
The lack of laces presents a clean, simple silhouette that elevates any outfit.
If we were to only choose one pair of Chelsea boots, we recommend the more narrow European style discussed above. Having that extra bit of versatility in more formal outfits is excellent, and they do well as nice date night boots, too.
A pair of dark brown suede Chelseas should be in every man's closet for their versatility alone. These are blake stitched for maximum sleekness with high quality suede calf leather. What I love about Velasca is you can choose your sole for each style---pick from Vibram or Dockers rubber (most versatile and better for winter) or leather (most dressy).
Chukka vs Chelsea Boots: Which Should You Get?
Both of these boots have their strengths and weaknesses, so there’s no easy answer here. So we’re going to break down the reasons why you might choose one over the other.
Reasons to Get a Chelsea Boot
Our favorite style of boot here at BootSpy is the Chelsea boot, so of course we’re going to lead with the reasons to get a pair of these sleek stunners.
The Chelsea boot is the most versatile boot you can buy, especially if you pick up a black pair, grey suede, or a darker shade in the brown family (burgundy, ox-blood, oak, etc.).
A slim brown Chelsea boot lends some elegance to a pair of jeans and still pairs well with chinos or a casual suit.
Because of the simple upper-construction, these boots are easy to care for with a little polish and leather balm so you can keep them clean looking year-round.
If you’re thinking about getting a pair of Chelsea boots for yourself, we recommend buying something that’s either Goodyear welted or Blake stitched. With these types of shoe construction, you can always resole your boots after the heel wears out.
Three of our favorite Chelsea boots are:
The Thursday Cavalier is Goodyear welted, leather lined, and offers excellent value. This particular Shadow Grey version is forever battling it out for the title of my favorite casual everyday Chelsea boot, and even with 20+ pairs of shoes in my closet, it's very often my go-to.
Reasons to Get a Chukka
The open lacing construction of a chukka lends itself well to a casual wardrobe. While there’s a little more going on design-wise with chukkas, the style is still simple and clean.
It’s more common to see suede in chukkas than Chelseas, and we think that the added texture looks better in the chukka style.
For this reason, chukkas are an excellent cool-weather boot for fall and winter. A flannel shirt, pair of raw denim jeans, and a suede chukka is one of the most cozy and stylish outfits you can put together.
There’s a greater variety of chukkas available, ranging from rugged to classy. While you can wear classier versions with a casual suit, the cleaner construction of the Chelsea boot lends itself better to formalwear.
The Thursday Scout is one of the best bang-for-buck chukkas on the market. With Thursday's proprietary leather and a stitchdown construction, this boot is hard to beat for value.
Our favorite chukka boots are:
Which Should You Get?
For my money, I’d choose a Chelsea boot.
That said, even with the increasing popularity of the style, some find it too fashion-forward for their tastes. Chukka boots are a safer choice, and while they don’t have the same ability to go formal like a Chelsea, there are still excellent classy options that will work with a casual suit.
In either case, we strongly recommend you invest in a resolable boot. Look for Goodyear welted or Blake stitched boots as these have the most weather resistance and better longevity than their cemented-sole counterparts.
Chelsea? Or Chukka?
What do you think?
Are you a fan of the fashion-forward Chelsea?
Or do you want to play it safe with a classy chukka?
If you’re building your boot collection and you don’t have a lot of variety and versatility in your wardrobe already, we like the Chelsea boot. The style will give you the most bang for your buck if you have a limited number of boot styles.
If you’re interested in a new boot that can fit a specific outfit, a suede pair of chukkas can be the perfect pop of texture.
Which is it for you?
What are chukka boots good for?
Chukka boots are versatile boots. There are many suede options available which is one of the best boot choices you can make for fall. Chukkas are simple, stylish, and fit in well with a casual wardrobe.
Why is it called a chukka?
It’s said that the name “chukka” comes from the game of polo, where a period of play is called a “chukker.” This style of boot was popular with polo players shortly after WWII.
What color boot is most versatile?
Any boot in the deep-brown family is the most versatile. Look for dark brown, oxblood, or burgundy boots as these can pair with jeans, chinos, and a casual suit.
Are Chelsea boots formal?
Chelsea boots aren’t formal, but if you get a slim style, you can easily pair them with a casual to semi-formal suit. They aren’t considered a part of a black-tie outfit, though.